We live in a world with a 24-hour news cycle, and a 24-hour reaction cycle. As soon as news hits, we are bombarded with reactions, often before we’ve even had a chance to process the information.
There’s no time to digest anything — as soon as news becomes public, it is immediately subject to likes and dislikes, and is dissected to the point where the original message is barely recognizable. It’s the business model that’s been adopted by ESPN, CNN, Fox News and other outlets, with great success.
What that means is we can no longer slowly eat a bowl of soup, and then decide whether we enjoyed it. We must quickly guzzle it down and provide our review on social media, for all the world to see.
A perfect example of this occurred last week when Netflix announced it was offering unlimited maternity and paternity leave during the first year following the birth or adoption of a child. The news rocketed through the media stratosphere, where pundits, cheerleaders and critics devoured it. And while it did earn a great deal of praise initially, the cheers soon turned to criticism as naysayers picked it apart, desperate to find a hole.
There are holes; this is by no means a flawless policy.
But can we take a step back for a second and recognize that this is an enormous step forward? In this country, a measly 12 percent of workers receive paid family leave, and we are one of just three nations surveyed by the United Nations that doesn’t guarantee new moms pay during their leave (Fortune).
The time was ripe for a major company to challenge the (rather pathetic) status quo. Netflix did that, and now others are following suit.
Earlier this week, Adobe Systems stated it was offering new moms 26 weeks of paid time off through a combination of medical and parental leave — an increase from the nine weeks it previously guaranteed. Microsoft also made public plans to change its policy to now offer mothers 20 weeks off, 12 of which are paid (a step up from the eight fully paid weeks that was given in the past).
To say that I find this encouraging is an understatement.
The problem, according to some, is that Netflix’s wording of “unlimited” is too open-ended, and can pose a problem both for staff — who may not be sure how to interpret the term — and for the managers who may not know when their valued people are returning to work. In that regard, perhaps what Adobe and Microsoft did makes more sense. But what Netflix did is set the bar high, and start the conversation about why new mothers are forced to rush back to work so soon after giving birth.
And trust me, it’s a conversation that needs a lot more air time.
I vividly remember the hoops I had to jump through to make sure I received short-term disability payments during my maternity leave — the countless attempts to reach an actual person by phone, the minor glitches that held everything up, and the endless paperwork I had to complete and fax to an office (which is super convenient for a mom who is home with newborns).
And I’m not the exception; I’m the rule. A good friend of mine was pressured to return to work in six weeks or risk losing key clients, and another came back to work to find she was removed from a big project for which work hadn’t even begun.
There’s a reason most day care facilities offer care for babies as young as six weeks old. For the large majority of new parents in the US, returning to work immediately is a must; even if we can afford a little extra time, many moms forego it for fear of the long-term impact on their career.
The good news is that there are progressive companies that are bucking the trend by extending parental leave, and there are leaders like Sue Schade who are working to make the path back to work a little less rocky. In a recent interview, Schade talked about the need to offer flexibility for new parents and make sure they’re included in key discussions.
Because smart leaders know that this isn’t a women’s issue; this is about retaining top talent, and creating the type of environment that allows for some balance. It’s about giving the best and brightest something they didn’t have before: options.
Let that digest.